Former Cypriot foreign minister leads in first round presidential election
Former Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides led the first round of the island’s presidential election on Sunday, but failed to gain a majority of the vote and will face a second round vote next weekend.
Christodoulides, with 32% of the vote, was closely followed by seasoned diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis, who surprised many by receiving 29.6%.
Averof Neofytou, leader of the center-right Democratic Rally party, was dropped from the race, marking a shift in the island’s politics.
All three leading candidates have close ties to outgoing right-wing president Nicos Anastasiades and are all considered part of the Cypriot political establishment.
Christodoulides, 49, served as a government spokesman before serving as foreign minister from 2018 to 2022 under Anastasiades. His decision to run as an independent has dealt a heavy blow to the Democratic Rally, splitting the vote between him and 61-year-old Neofytou.
Opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s vote showed up to a third of the Democratic Rally would support the former secretary of state.
Neofytou has led the center-right party since 2013 and throughout the campaign he has emphasized his political experience and ability to provide stability. Any endorsement of the Democratic Rally by either of the remaining two candidates could have a significant effect on the final outcome.
Neofytou met Anastasiades and other members of the Democratic Rally on Sunday night to determine if he would support Christodoulides in the second round. Fiona Mullen, director of Sapienta, a consulting firm in Nicosia, said: “It is possible that Neofytou will demand in exchange for leadership of the Democratic Party, or he may decide to take revenge on both Anastasiades and Christodoulides and cry out call everyone to support Mavroyiannis.” emphasized that things will become clearer in the next few days.
Mavroyiannis, 66, is known for serving as the chief negotiator in negotiations with northern Cyprus over the reunification of the divided island, which has been divided since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Backed by the opposition Akel party, Mavroyiannis promised during his campaign that he would bring a breath of fresh air to the presidency after 10 years in power by Anastasiades.
Analysts say Cyprus’s patronist political approach has intensified during the election campaign in Greek Cyprus in the south of the island, which has a population of just 1.2 million.
“Over the past two weeks, all party members have been reminded of why they must be loyal to specific candidates,” Mullen said.
The new president and his government will have to tackle challenges including high inflation, rising cost of living, restarting deadlocked negotiations with Turkish Cypriots and the urgent need to upgrade the island’s electricity grid.